In this article, we’re going to look at some easy and affordable ways to gain industrial automation skills.
No matter if you want to shift your engineering career from manufacturing to automation or you want to go from a machine operator to an automation technician, you can benefit from these online courses.
Introduction to Industrial Automation (What is it?)
Industrial automation is a combination of mechatronic systems that perform a specific task. Industrial automation is commonly found in manufacturing facilities.
Processes are automated so that products can be produced faster, reliably, and accurately to pre-defined specifications.
If you’re looking to get into the field of industrial automation, then you’re probably looking at these job titles:
- Automation Technician
- Automation Engineer
- Automation Field Engineer
- Manufacturing Engineer
- Manufacturing Automation Engineer
There are a bunch of varieties to these roles, but they all work on similar things. The difference between a technician and an engineer is typically based on education. Engineers attend a four-year degree program, whereas technicians are hired based on hands-on experience or a two-year trade degree.
The industrial automation field works with conveyors, motors, robot arms, PLCs, HMIs, and SCADA systems. Plants will go through their repetitive manufacturing processes, map out each step, and then program machinery to repeat these tasks.
In this article, we’ll explore these key topics:
- What industrial automation courses you can take including automation course fees (How much does it cost to get started?);
- Whether or not you should take vendor training (such as Rockwell Automation training); and,
- How to learn industrial automation topics on your own for less than $1000.
By the end of this guide, you should be able to figure out whether or not industrial automation is the career path for you, and what courses you need to take to advance your career.
Industrial Automation Courses
There are a bunch of Industrial Automation Courses you can take. More specifically, in this section, we’re going to focus on industrial automation training online.
I know how expensive professional training can get, so I’m focusing only on courses that are less than $200/each in this section.
If you’re coming from a mechanical engineering background or manufacturing operations, I recommend taking a look at these automation courses for mechanical engineers:
There are also some really good options for automation engineering and industrial automation courses on LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda). The nice thing about this option is that once you complete a course, the certificate automatically shows up on your LinkedIn profile.
Should you take Rockwell Automation Training?
Rockwell Automation offers many different in-person training courses for their Allen-Bradley PACs and PLCs. If your company is exclusively an Allen-Bradley shop, then I recommend attending this training.
While Rockwell Automation training is expensive, oftentimes, the classes paid for by your company as part of a career development initiative (especially if you work in a large corporation).
I highly recommend attending these courses in order. If you jump to a level 3 course before taking the level 1 course, then you’ll be very confused. Even if you think you know everything about a ControlLogix or CompactLogix PLC, I still recommend taking the courses in order.
Here’s a link to the current Rockwell Automation training schedule.
All about the Rockwell Logix Certification Program
Also, Rockwell Automation offers the Logix Certificate Program. If you want to become specialized in Allen-Bradley PLCs, then choosing the programmer or maintainer track makes a lot of sense.
Each course counts for Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and once you finish all of them, you can complete an online assessment to confirm your Logix knowledge.
This is, however, only useful if you want to specialize in Rockwell products, have a dire need to know all things Logix or you have the funding to shell out $2-$5K per course to attend the training.
Electrical Automation Course
Additionally, you might be considering taking some electrical automation courses. If your goal is to work for an Industrial or Robotics Integrator, then you’ll want to have a solid understanding of electrical systems.
Furthermore, skills in Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) and experience with AC/DC motors and drives are highly sought after in most Controls Engineering roles.
Here are some electrical automation courses to consider adding to your career development list.
Take Automation Technician Training
If you’re just getting started and aren’t coming from an engineering background, you may want to ease into the field by taking automation technician training online.
Many community colleges and technical trade schools offer automation technician programs. So, if you know you’re not good at holding yourself accountable for online courses, then you may want to consider enrolling in an in-person training program.
Plus, a lot of automation technician programs will expose you to hands-on labs. Just make sure that their automation lab is stocked with new, modern, and state-of-the-art equipment before you enroll.
It wouldn’t make sense to attend a program that is using outdated SLC-5’s or Do-more PLCs and doesn’t have access to industry-standard equipment.
Now, if a full-time automation technician program isn’t in the cards for you, then you can take some online training programs. A lot of the courses mentioned in this article are applicable. You may have to supplement these courses with advanced electronics and mathematic courses if you’re coming from a high school background.
SCADA PLC Training
Lastly, you’ll want to add SCADA PLC Training to the mix. SCADA or Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition is a control system that interacts with machine devices (sensors, valves, pumps, motors), setpoints, and more using HMI displays.
Understanding SCADA systems and HMI programming will accelerate your industrial automation career. Combine this with years of project and hands-on experience, and you’ll be on your way to becoming an invaluable asset to any production facility.
In this section, let’s look at some SCADA PLC training courses you can take online.
While it is helpful to have a PLC or system to test with, a lot of these activities can be completed in a “test” environment. You’ll also want to have some basic understanding of HMI programming to complement your SCADA skills.
As with learning anything new, it’s important to practice these skills by building out projects. You can get some inexpensive PLCs and HMIs and set up a test rig to practice ladder logic programming, HMI interface development, and configuring a SCADA system.
Free Online Automation Courses
If you don’t have the benefit of taking career development courses through work, then free online automation courses make the most sense.
Free courses won’t give you the added benefit of a certificate. However, if it’s a choice between learning the material and not, then I would choose the free option over nothing every day.
Here are some good options for free online automation courses:
You may also want to check for industrial automation tutorials on YouTube. Here are a few tutorials I recommend checking out.
2. PLC Manual
Learn Industrial Automation Skills without the Fluff
If you’re like me and would rather get straight to the point without the fluff, then learning industrial automation online is a great option.
It’s important to understand the fundamentals of machine design, PLC setup, HMI development, and system testing. With careful planning and courses listed in this article, you can design your own “automation technician certification” program.
Focus on taking courses that cover topics you’re unfamiliar with or uncertain about. The best way to get better at anything is to address your weaknesses. While it might be tempting to work on topics you’re good at, this won’t advance your career or help you get to the next level.
Find an Industrial Automation Job
Take a few minutes to figure out what skills you need to learn. If you’re brand new to automation engineering, then I recommend searching Google for “industrial automation jobs.” Then pick out a few job descriptions for your dream job.
Then find the skills that are required to get that job, and search for courses that cover those skills on Udemy.
More than likely, if you want a promotion or raise, then obtaining an automation certification or credential will be required.
I’m a fan of Udemy because you can get very niche courses for around $10-$20. Most of the courses are taught by industry professionals. As a result, you can learn the “in’s and out’s” of what you need to know without the fluff.
Even if you have to take five to 10 courses, it’s still cheaper than any degree I know of, and it can cover knowledge gaps that you have.
Plus, once you get that shiny promotion, the return on your investment is probably closer to 10X or 20X. Not too shabby!
Learn Robotics’ Picks for Best Industrial Automation Courses
If I were to recommend any online courses to help your industrial automation skills, then I would recommend starting with these three:
I’ve taken all of these courses to fill knowledge gaps for Automation roles I’ve had in the past. Typically, I’ll enroll in the course and then block out a few hours each day to work on the material. I like to choose courses that tie directly to projects I’m currently working or tools I need to be more efficient with my job.
For example, I took the AutoCAD Electrical Course because I needed to create and modify 2D models of automated work cells that were being added to the plant. Rather than outsource this role, I spent a few weeks going through the course and making drawings I needed anyways.
Lastly, another example is the TIA portal course. I took this course because I needed to be able to support development with Siemens PLCs. Even though I had Allen-Bradley experience, the TIA portal is different than Studio5000. It’s nice to have the course to walk through and learn where things are, without having to figure it out on my own.
What have you done to improve your Industrial Automation Skills? Are you working towards becoming an automation technician by taking online training?
Leave your goals and plans below, and we’ll be sure to keep you accountable!
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